Latinas and all women have the human right to full information, resources, and services to make healthy decisions about relationships, sex, pregnancy and parenting. Focusing on teen pregnancy prevention as the main and only strategy to advancing adolescent sexual and reproductive health is not an adequate framework for doing so because so many of those needs fall outside of the scope of pregnancy prevention.
As a reproductive health organization, The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health supports many of the policies that are put in place to “address teen pregnancy": comprehensive sexuality education, increased affordability and access to contraception, and the expansion of public programs that address reproductive health, such as Title X and Medicaid. However, we support these policies as part of a platform to increase women’s ability to make informed choices that are relevant to their lives, and not as an attempt for the state to control young women’s fertility. Additionally, we support initiatives that expand young women’s options – particularly low-income young women and young women of color – for higher education and job access such as tuition reimbursement, loan forgiveness and affirmative action.
It is important to remember that these policy initiatives are valid, but attempting to use them to steer women’s reproductive health choices to what those in power find to be socially acceptable devalues them and can create skepticism towards what would otherwise be valuable initiatives.
Lastly, as a part of supporting all women’s reproductive decisions, it is imperative to create a system of support for young mothers. Though policymakers often cite statistics regarding young mothers’ likeliness to drop out of school or live in poverty, much less often do we see policies presented to meaningfully address these issues for young mothers, such as initiatives to create subsidized child-care centers at institutions of higher learning. Young women do not lose their rights or personhood when they decide to become mothers, and should be afforded the same opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as young women who decide to parent later in their lives or decide not to parent at all.
As we continue to see the health care reform debates and common ground proposals discussed, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health has a list of priorities that can help inform these discussions and address the health and well-being of Latinas and their families.
Expand Medicaid eligibility.
Medicaid is an essential program to Latinas and women of color. Because Latinas and women of color are disproportionately poor, it is important to expand Medicaid eligibility to address disparities in access to health care services and health outcomes. A recent study showed that in the U.S. young women (18-24) who were without health insurance are significantly less likely to use prescription contraception methods. This indicates that education is not sufficient- adolescents and young adults, like all people, need adequate information and healthcare resources to achieve sexual health and plan their families.
Support family eligibility.
Under individual eligibility models for health care reform, proposals could bypass many family members, including teens, who are in need of health coverage. A recent report found that immigrants tend to live in mixed-legal status households and because of rules regarding coverage for immigrants, only certain family members may then be able to access health insurance. Complicated rules about CHIP and Medicaid eligibility for younger and older children also leave many families who have “mixed eligibility,” without health insurance. In these families, some members are eligible for CHIP, some for Medicaid, and some have no options for health insurance. Families with mixed-eligibility children have lower levels of insurance overall, leaving adolescents uninsured at a critical time in their sexual and reproductive lives.
Individuals’ health is inextricably linked to the health of their families. A model that covers individuals without regards to family is incomplete and insensitive to the ways in which people access health care. This would help more young people who are immigrants access the health care they need.
Support the development and maintenance of community health worker models.
Community health worker models, such as the promotoras de salud model, promote positive health behaviors and connect underserved communities to services in a culturally and linguistically competent manner. Studies have shown community health workers to be effective in increasing vaccinations, breastfeeding, breast cancer screening and other chronic disease screening among Latinas and in other communities.
Public health professionals and researchers have called for the community health worker model to be incorporated into the U.S. health system. Young people will not always get the information they need at school or from their parents; therefore a promotora de salud can provide young people with accurate comprehensive information on their health.
Expand access to and increase funding for Community Health Centers (CHCs) and Title X clinics.
Over 20% of Latinas receive reproductive health care services from Title X clinics and family planning programs and nearly 25% of Title X clinic clients are Latinas. Latinas have the highest uninsured rate, over 38%, of any racial and ethnic group. CHCs and Title X clinics are an essential source of reproductive health and preventive services especially for low-income Latinas and immigrant women. Increasing access and funding for these clinics would promote health and wellness for the underserved Latina and immigrant communities.
According to Pew Hispanic Center, the number of Latino children has nearly tripled since 1980. Projections by the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that by 2025, nearly three-in-ten children in this country will be of Latino ancestry. Young Latinos today are tomorrows, political leaders, voters, and professionals. The sexual and reproductive health of young Latinos is non-negotiable. It is in our best interest to address the health care needs of our future leaders.